Philips Hue Tap Dial review: the seamless way to control your smart lighting

The $ 49.99 Philips Hue Tap Dial is a smart lighting controller for the Hue super user. This is the most powerful and innovative Hue accessory to date, with four buttons and a physical dimming knob. Out of the box, the buttons and knob are tied to a zone or room, making it appear to be an overpowered Hue smart dimmer. But why limit yourself to one room when it can control Hue lights throughout your home?

Tap Dial is a wireless, battery-powered smart switch that can turn your Philips Hue lights on and off, brighten and dim them, and set light scenes. Thanks to the magnetic base, it can be attached to the included wall plate like a regular wall switch, or placed on any metal or flat surface for use as a remote control.

It’s part of the Hue smart lighting ecosystem that works with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Samsung SmartThings. Signify (Hue owners) also confirmed Borderland the switch will be upgraded to work with the new Matter smart home standard. This means that one day she may be able to control much more than just Hue lights.

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The Tap Dial is tough, weighing just over two and a half ounces (an ounce heavier than the Apple TV remote). But this weight is in his favor; you can turn the knob while it is sitting on the table, and it won’t slip. The dial itself is solid when you turn it, with nice tactile feedback. It’s just like rotating your Nest Learning Thermostat, and it’s only a tad smaller. It also worked quickly and reliably and the dimming was smooth and responsive with no noticeable lag.

Out of the box, it is configured to dim any light, room, or zone you pair it with in the Hue app. The first to third buttons adjust the light level, and the fourth one toggles five Hue scenes. The knob gives a more precise dimming, and a long press of any button turns off the lights. (Hue scenes are different combinations of brightness, color temperature, or color depending on the type of bulbs you have.)

But there’s no real reason to buy a Tap Dial if you only intend to control one room or zone. This is what the Hue Dimmer Switch does well for about half the price. The Tap Dial shines as a multi-zone controller for people with lots of Hue lights.

Turn the knob clockwise to make the highlights brighter and counterclockwise to dim them. The faster you turn it, the faster it brightens; the slower you turn it, the more accurately you control the dimming level.

I set up a Tap Dial in my hallway and each button is programmed to control a different part of my home. The first button turned on all the Hue lights in the house, the second light button in the hall and living room, the third light button upstairs, and the four lights button downstairs. I also added a few colored scenes for consecutive button presses (you can press each button up to 10 times to cycle through the scenes), but I didn’t use them often.

I set the dial to control all the lights simultaneously. One limitation to using the tactile dial in this way is that the dial can only control one of them all lights or a single room or zone. Wish I could dim or brighten the lights for whatever button you just pressed. A somewhat clunky workaround here is to use the second and third presses of each button to dim the lights that aren’t controlled by the dial.

Default configuration in the Hue app (left); dial settings (including the ability to dim to minimum brightness and turn off); and the ability to cycle through multiple scenes (up to 10) with consecutive presses.

On the plus side, I have a central lighting controller that gives me physical access to all the lights in my house without having to pull out my phone or use voice commands. This makes this gadget really useful. If my house were fully equipped with Hue lights I would consider this a necessary purchase. However, it isn’t, and until it can effectively control every smart light in my home, regardless of brand (which it might be able to do when the Matter shows up here), makes it more enjoyable than a must-have for me.

Another problem is that even with what I thought was an intuitive setup, it’s not easy to remember which button does what, and I would like to have the option of tagging them with a small icon or emoticons.

The Tap Dial is heavy in the hand and its strong magnet easily snaps back into the wallboard.

If your entire home is equipped with Hue bulbs and light fixtures, this is a handy physical controller to manage them all. If you have Hue outdoor lights, you can program them to control them as well. At $ 50, it’s an expensive kit, plus it uses Zigbee, so you’ll need a Hue Bridge ($ 59.99), but there aren’t many good solutions for dimming smart bulbs.

Most smart dimmers only work with standard incandescent lamps, not smart ones. Other options for Hue bulbs, besides asking your voice assistant to set the lights to 70 percent or jumping to the smartphone app, include pressing and holding a button on the Hue Dimmer Switch ($ 28) or turning the rotary knob to the Lutron Aurora ($ 40), an upgrade option toggle switches. I’ve tried them all, and the Tap Dial is by far the most fun to use.

The Tap Dial can be used with or without a wall mount, which is larger than a standard wall plate.

The four buttons have raised dots so you can know which ones you press, even in the dark.

The switch uses one CR2032 battery, which should last for two years. (The first Tap switch was kinetically powered.)

If you only have a few Hue bulbs, you’d be better off going with a cheaper Hue smart dimmer that can do whatever this device does, with just less individual room control and a more bulky dimming interface.

The Smart Dimmer also has a time-based lighting option – where the lights turn on at a certain brightness depending on the time of day – a great feature that, oddly enough, isn’t yet offered on the Tap Dial. Kelly Hrank, head of PR at Signify, told me that this feature would be available soon. The switch is also not integrated into the Hue app’s Hue Labs feature, which allows you to set up more powerful lighting scenes, and Hrank says there are no such plans.

Like the previously discontinued Hue Tap, Tap Dial can be used as a HomeKit scene controller, but you shouldn’t worry about that now. The dial doesn’t work on HomeKit (which is an Apple limitation, not Hue), and you can only use one press to trigger the automation. This makes this $ 50 disc switch a less useful version of the Wemo Stage I just reviewed, which was designed specifically for HomeKit and was faster to run HomeKit automation than Tap Dial in testing.

The touch wheel will get more functions soon. The “Configure in HomeKit” option has been available to Hue accessories for years, but the Hue app now includes the option to configure Tap Dial in another app – Tap Dial is the first Hue accessory to support this. This option doesn’t do anything yet, but Hrank said Borderland Amazon Alexa will be one of the apps where you can set Tap Dial.

This should means you’ll be able to use the Tap Dial to control any Alexa compatible smart device (not just Hue, not just lights), just like you would use it in HomeKit. Additionally, if the dial is exposed to Alexa, it would be a very useful lighting control for the vast Alexa ecosystem, especially if you can use buttons to launch routines. I will test it as soon as it is available and report it back.

All of this openness is possibly part of the preparation for Matter, the unique feature of which is multi-admin control – the option to configure devices to be controlled by any Matter compatible ecosystem. Thanks to Matter support, the Tap Dial can be used to control any light in my home, no matter who produced it – a much better proposition than enclosing it in an expensive Hue ecosystem.

But don’t buy Tap Dial now as you may be able to do it later. If you have Hue lights all over your home and you want to be able to control them from one device (with a physical dimmer!), Tap Dial is now handy. For everyone else, wait and see what’s coming.

Photos of Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge

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